The problem of how to get people to donate to charity has spawned Red Nose Day, Movember, “Do They Know it’s Christmas” and many marathons run in hedgehog costumes. What do all these things have in common? They’re all vying to seize your attention.
That’s the challenge for Federica Donato, who founded the charity Art4Humanity (A4H) in 2020. “In the US there are many non-profit organisations. The challenge is to stand out.” Donato is a self-described “visionary”, an earnest Italian with large brown eyes and a quick smile. “What I really want to do is make social change.”
An Italian who lived in Brussels for 20 years, working primarily as a communications adviser at the European Parliament and European Commission, Donato is relatively new to the US. What’s more, she says she wouldn’t have dreamed of launching a charity in her native Italy or even in Belgium. The attitude is totally different in the US, she explains. “Italian culture doesn’t allow us to make progress or think of the public good as something to invest in. We are not used to thinking of others and we’re not generous in terms of time and money when it comes to the common good.”
She’s found Americans to be the opposite. And that’s what allowed her to set up A4H. “I was preparing an exhibition when Covid started. I realised I had to – and I could – do something meaningful. I always say if you can, you must. So why shouldn’t I use my arts and professional experience?”
After all, art is the “one common language that can break barriers, trigger actions, create togetherness and allow higher levels of thinking”. Donato’s aim for her charity is to invest in the arts and education to develop educational systems that encourage young people to become thoughtful change agents.
In 2020, Art4Humanity started to fund the Photography School, teaching photography to women and girls living in the Diavata refugee camp in Greece. The programme – managed by the NGOs Smiley Hand and Quick Response Team – has helped these women reclaim their voices and reinstate their identities. Their work has received major critical acclaim, winning the 2021 Global Peace Photo Award.
The Photography School helps these women process their trauma and make their voices heard on the world stage. To fundraise, Art4Humanity sells artwork on their website with all proceeds going to the school.
It is rare to see pictures of refugees not taken by war journalists or international media outlets, and the images taken by these women are correspondingly powerful. Flames, scissors and hands are recurring themes, making these photos thoroughly arresting.
Activism against the mafia
As a southern Italian, Donato is horrified by the mafia’s control over areas of the country. So one project Art4Humanity supports is a religious one near Scampia, which itself is not far from Naples, where the mafia have a strong presence. It feeds and provides activities for kids whose parents may work in the mafia or simply aren’t able to provide for them. The organisation hopes to prevent these children from becoming ensnared into mafia life.
With such varied projects, Art4Humanity is essentially an activism platform. Using the hook of arts, it’s a space to make charitable donations easier and the more obvious solution.
In the future, Donato hopes to move into the youth education space. In children, she thinks, there is kindness and generosity. It is society and families that muddy our humanity. Art is innocence and inspiration. Donato hopes that art can be a form of creative agency to those who lack it and spark good instincts in those who could help others.